Female stars at this year’s Golden Globes and BAFTA awards wore black and celebrities at the Grammys donned white roses to show support for the movement against sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. But what practical steps can individuals in other sectors take if they are affected?
The legal position
According to a survey carried out by the TUC in 2016, nearly two thirds of women aged 18- 24 and over half of all women say they have experienced sexual harassment at work. This stark statistic is despite the fact that the Equality Act 2010 (the Act) makes sexual harassment unlawful.
Sexual harassment is defined in the Act as:
unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a worker, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
An employer can be liable for acts of harassment if it fails to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment in the workplace.
All employers should have an anti-harassment/discrimination policy as well as a grievance procedure which employees should use to make a complaint if they feel that they have suffered an act of harassment in the workplace. If this does not produce the desired outcome then a formal, legal claim should be considered.
Points to note about bringing a claim
- Claims for harassment can be bought in the employment tribunal without having to pay a fee.
- However, there is generally a three month time limit on bringing claims.
- It is not just employees who are protected against harassment, those working on other types of contracts such as workers are protected.
- An individual does not need to resign before bringing a claim, they may claim while still employed.
- Claims of harassment may be made on the grounds of sex as well as the other protected characteristics of: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation.
- The person bringing the harassment claim does not have to have the relevant protected characteristic themselves. For example, a man who is offended by overhearing sexist comments made by colleagues directed towards a woman could bring a claim.
- Harassment can be a one-off incident (such as a comment or joke) or an on-going course of conduct.
- The harassment doesn’t have to be specifically targeted at one person.
- It is irrelevant whether or not the person accused of harassment intended their actions to be harassment.
- If a claim for harassment is successful it is possible to receive compensation for injury to feelings (unlike in claims for unfair dismissal where only economic loss can be recovered).
- Compensation is uncapped, meaning potentially large pay outs are possible, depending on the severity of the harassment and its effects on the victim.
- An individual who makes a claim for harassment (or gives evidence in support of such a claim) is protected against subsequent acts of victimisation by their employer.
- Claims of harassment can be bought against both an employer and an individual.
- Harassment involving physical or sexual assault will also be a criminal matter and should be reported to the police.
- Before bringing a claim in the employment tribunal, individuals should use their employer’s grievance procedure to complain about any act of harassment.
ACAS has issued helpful guidance on sexual harassment for individuals.
Increased awareness may have a wider benefit…
Over 200 British female stars recently signed a letter, published in the Observer calling for an end to sexual harassment at work. Harry Potter star Emma Watson went further and donated a reported £1 million pounds to the UK Justice and Equality Fund which is seeking to crowd fund a new advice network.
With the spotlight still firmly the entertainment industry, media interest in this subject seems unlikely to wane anytime soon. Hopefully, increased awareness generally may lead to changes which will benefit a wider cross section of society.
How can we help?
If you believe you are experiencing sexual (or any other type of) harassment at work or, are an employer concerned that you are taking all necessary steps to prevent harassment in your workplace speak to one of our employment experts today.